Short week nets long results in division

added 8/1/2003 by Willie B. Lakey

Don’t you wish every week could be like this for the Astros?

The bullpen only had to work one inning total Monday through Wednesday. The team added nothing but wins to their slate during the week, with every starting pitcher trotted out to a mound picking up a W as well. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio both reached career milestones on Friday and Sunday respectively. And the team increased its lead in the NL Central to at least 3 games.

Yeah, life would be pretty wonderful if every week was like this last one.

The Astros came out of the All-Star break as hot as they went in, sweeping another 4-game set from the Reds, this time on the road. Houston owns their second 5-game win streak in the last two weeks, and has now won 10 of their last 11.

The biggest problem with the way the team’s playing right now is we all know it won’t last, and there are still a few chinks in the armor.

We know it won’t last because it never does for any team. We’re also a jaded bunch, we Astros fans. We expect doom to come at some point after watching it happen for 41+ seasons now.

And we also know it won’t last because of those aforementioned chinks.

Offenses are notoriously streaky, and Houston’s is enjoying a good spurt right now. Of course, they haven’t exactly been facing Cy Young and Satchel Paige recently. Still, can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Bagwell looks to be getting into a groove, and it’s about the right time of the year for him to do so. Jeff Kent is back and I expect continued clutchness from him. The best thing for my money right now is watching Richard Hidalgo having fun and pounding the ball. I remember hearing Gerry Hunsicker last winter talking about how having Doggie back up to speed would be like adding two big free agent sticks along with Kent.

Also on the positive side is how well Morgan Ensberg and Geoff Blum have done sharing the job at third and coming off the bench. The pair had a rocky spring, especially on defense, but they’ve been nothing but a 2-headed rock all season, both at the plate and in the field.

One really nasty dent on the breastplate this season has been the starting pitching. They’ve been adding wins to their stat sheets in this streak, but as a group they have to start adding an extra inning to each of their starts. And manager Jimy Williams is going to have to start letting them pitch into the 7th inning at least 3-4 times each five starts. Otherwise it’s just got to catch up to the pen.

Ah, the bullpen. Is this the greatest bunch of relievers, or what? And yet I keep having these recurring nightmares where Jimy makes the call to the bullpen, like he does every game, and as each reliever enters, they lose an arm while warming up. Dan things just fall up trying to get loose. Wagner’s actually drops as he’s running in from the bullpen.

It’s just so tough to imagine the relievers can keep it up. If the starters could get just another 3-4 outs per game, it could mean so much.

Heck, it would work wonders on my stress level, if nothing else!

WINS & LOSSES: Following the three days off for the Midseason Classic, Houston started an 8-game roadtrip with a 4-game sweep in Cincinnati. Houston took the opener on Thursday 5-4 thanks to a 5-run 2nd inning and 4 innings of 1-hit, shutout ball by the best bullpen in baseball. Doubles by Richard Hidalgo, Craig Biggio and Adam Everett keyed the Astros’ big inning, and rookie southpaw Jeriome Robertson saw his record improve to 9-3 as he won his 8th-straight decision, a new Houston record for rooks.

Hidalgo popped a pair of homers and Jeff Bagwell added another in Friday’s 5-3 win. Roy Oswalt got the Dubya with relief help from Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner.

After the close games on Thursday and Friday, Houston looked to be on easy street Saturday afternoon when they built a 9-1 lead in the 6th inning. Lance Berkman, Hidalgo and Morgan Ensberg went back-to-back-to-back with long balls in the 1st inning, and Berkman later added his second homer on the day to fuel the Astros at the plate. A single by Craig Biggio started that 1st inning, and was the 2,400th hit in his great career. But the Reds rallied with 7 runs in the final two innings, including 5 in the 9th. A Jason LaRue 3-run blast made it 9-8 before Octavio Dotel struck out Reggie Taylor and D’Angelo Jimenez, both swinging, to end the near-nightmare.

And Bagwell closed the week and series out with a pair of homers in Houston’s 6-3 win on Sunday. The two blasts gave Baggy 400 dingers for his career. Wade Miller made one mistake that turned into a 3-run blast by Aaron Boone in the 6th for Cincy’s only runs on the day. Billy Wagner pitched a 1-2-3 frame in the 9th for his 3rd save of the 4-game series.

BUMPS, BRUISES & BREAKS: Jeff Kent returned to action on Thursday after missing nearly three weeks with a bad left wrist. That move meant Dave Matranga was returned to Triple-A New Orleans.

With Kent’s return, it leaves infielder Jose Vizcaino (broken arm) and Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder tendinitis) still on the DL. The target for Vizcaino’s return remains late August at the earliest, with Rosario on no timetable or rush to get back on the mound. Look for Rosario to return to New Orleans once he is healthy enough to pitch.

The only other injury concern from the week was Adam Everett taking a Ryan Dempster pitch off his right wrist in Friday’s game. X-rays showed nothing broken, and Everett sat out both Saturday and Sunday.

DAY-BY-DAY ASTRO-LOGY: Houston ended the week 54-44 on the season, the first time this season they’ve reached the 10-games-over-.500 level. This next week should start well for Jeff Bagwell (Gemini) and Morgan Ensberg (Virgo) on Monday. Craig Biggio, Octavio Dotel and Ricky Stone (Sagittarius) should have the starts and planets all aligned for them on Wednesday. Thursday should belong to Lance Berkman and Adam Everett, both Aquarius, and Jeff Kent (Pisces). Richard Hidalgo (Cancer) will continue his fine season with nice stats in his Friday linescore. Billy Wagner (Leo) will be untouchable on Saturday. We start heading into a new moon on Sunday, so all bets are off on that day at this time.

Monday 3-3 . . . Tuesday 10-5 . . . Wednesday 7-8 . . . Thursday 9-6 . . . Friday 11-5 . . . Saturday 6-10 . . . Sunday 8-7

STAR OF THE WEEK: Always nice to have a lot of candidates for this award, and I’m giving the Shooting Star this last week to Jeff Bagwell who became the first Astro to hit 400 home runs. In the 4 games at Cincinnati, Baggy hit .429 (6 hits) with 3 HR, 7 RBI and 4 runs scored. Honorable mention goes to Richard Hidalgo (9 hits, 3 HR, 4 RBI) and Billy Wagner (3 Saves, 3 IP, 0 ER, 6 K).

MILESTONE HOMERS: Here’s how Jeff Bagwell progressed to 400 career home runs.

#1 – 15 April 1991 off Kent Mercker at Fulton County Std in Atlanta, a 2-run blast in the 9th inning to give Houston a 3-1 win.

#100 – 20 June 1995, off Gil Heredia at Olympic Std in Montreal, a solo blast in the 7th of the Astros’ 7-4 win.

#200 – 24 June 1998, off Pedro Astacio at Coors Field in Denver, a 3-run shot in the 1st and part of a 2-HR game that saw the Astros fall 8-6 to the Rockies.

#300 – 19 August 2000, off Jamey Wright at Enron Field in Houston, a 3-run shot in the 2nd, he added #301 later in the day, and Houston wins 10-8 over Milwaukee.

#400 – 20 July 2003, off Danny Graves at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, a solo shot in the 6th after taking Graves deep in the 1st inning for #399, and the Astros go on to a 6-3 win.

ON DECK: The Astros now head to Pittsburgh for a short 2-game set against the Pirates on Monday and Tuesday (July 21-22), then slide through Milwaukee for another 2-game set Wednesday and Thursday (July 23-24) versus the Brewers. Houston will then be home next weekend (July 25-27) where they will host the Chicago Cubs for 3 games.

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